Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of sleeping pills enter the market for people who chronically have difficulty in sleeping. The newer pills are believed to be more powerful, although whether it’s because of scientific evidence or marketing strategies, is difficult to say. A new report from Consumers Union, which appears in the Consumer Reports’ Best Buy Drugs, however, suggests that for those who need sleeping aid just for a night or two might benefit just as much from older, less expensive sleeping pills such as antihistamines. The report, as well as this article from the Washington Post, made me think of the herbal teas and supplements widely used for treating sleeping disorders such as insomnia.
Chamomile tea, for example, is a traditional relaxant, and is supposed to relieve occasional sleeplessness. In fact, I recall drinking a few cups myself, on those nights I couldn’t sleep for some reason. So I am surprised to find out that a recent review of the health benefits of Chamomile tea says that, to date, there have been no clinical trials proving that chamomile tea really do have sedative properties. It doesn’t mean that the tea doesn’t work, just that there have been no controlled studies to prove that it does.
Scientifically documented plant-based sleeping aids tested in human trials include valerian (Valeriana officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, oil used in aromatherapy) and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, P. coerula, P. edulis). Plants which have demonstrated anxiolytic or sedative properties in animal tests are catnip (Nepeta cataria), hops (Humulus lupulus) and linden or lime flower (Tilia sp.). Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), when combined with valerian, has been demonstrated to improve sleep in insomniac patients.
The US Pharmacist has a well-documented list of herbs and dietary supplements used to treat insomnia.
Take note that any claims to healing or health benefits made by manufacturers of these teas and herbal remedies are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Do not self-medicate, particularly if you are taking other medications. Recently, a 70-year old patient who was rushed to the ER after drinking chamomile tea for her sore throat. Apparently chamomile tea results to a life-threatening reaction when taken by patients on warfarin, a blood anti-coagulant prescribed for people with heart conditions.